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Monthly Archives: May 2016

On Topic: literary fests, India's racism, Pinjra Tod and public apologies

News from home:

The controversy surrounding Vedanta’s sponsorship of the London edition of the Jaipur Literary Festival continues; the primary issue being the funding of a literary space (considered by many to be a free space) by a mining conglomerate with a chequered human rights record. Here is an open letter signed by writers, academics and others addressed to the speakers - to reconsider their participation and even consider a boycott. Several writers have expressed their reasons for participating in the event, despite knowledge of the sponsor, as have other public intellectuals who have emphasized the necessity to make visible the transgressions of Vedanta through a boycott, and to interrogate the public legitimacy the company has gained by sponsoring, endowing literary and cultural festivals.

Recently Masonda Ketada Olivier, a French tutor from Congo, was beaten to death in the capital, in what was obviously a racist attack. In a similar instance of violence in February, a Tanzanian girl was beaten, stripped and paraded naked by a mob in Bangalore. African envoys condemned these acts of racism and xenophobia by boycotting their participation in the government-organized Africa Day celebrations, as documented in this report. But they have taken back their objections after the Indian government was forced to do some damage control. Also, from the archives Joshua Muyiwa, a Nigerian-Indian journalist writes on experiencing racism in Bangalore.

Here is V Geetha’s response to Jayalalithaa’s victory in the recent assembly elections in Tamil Nadu:

Jayalalithaa’s victory is not as conclusive as it might appear. She has perfected a style of populism that is fundamentally cynical — and relies on what might win favour both in a political and “moral” sense. The cynicism is apparent in the much praised PDS handouts. The quality of the rice that is given free is invariably poor, there is a dearth of goods, especially cooking fuel, pulses, and it is never quite clear whether these are unavailable or have been diverted into the shadow economy. It is also evident in the freebies, which are procured at unbelievably low prices and are sold and resold by the recipients — the charmed circle of the party faithful affords an efficient patron-client setup that manages these transactions.

The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutional validity of criminal defamation in a recent ruling. Gautam Bhatia in his incisive response writes about why this sets a dangerous legal precedent for freedom of speech. Here is an excerpt:

In general, criminal defamation is disproportionate because it uses the criminal law to prosecute a wrong that is purely private in nature. A private wrong is one that is purely between the offender and her victim, and has no implications for the society at large. For example, if I fail to control my dog, and it bites you, then you may sue me for compensation in a civil court. Society, the state, and the criminal law have nothing to do with it. However, if I murder a person, then it is not just about one individual taking the life of another, but has ramifications for public peace, order and security. This is why murder is a criminal offence, involves a term in jail, and is prosecuted by the state.

 This article provides a feminist reading of the ruling, and looks at how criminalizing defamation would adversely impact women who want to speak up about sexual violence and harassment.

As a follow-up to Jisha’s story, here is an insightful commentary by J Devika about how the welfarist policies in Kerala have failed its marginal citizens. She writes of how the social exclusion faced by marginal subjects— lower caste, Dalit women, and the urban poor—is not assuaged by education or employment.

Finally, there's good news for the activists and supporters of the Pinjra Tod, a student activist group that has been contesting discriminatory rules faced by women in hostel accommodations provided by Delhi colleges. The Delhi commission for Women (DCW) has sent a notice to 23 registered universities in Delhi asking them to explain restrictions on mobility of female students. Members of Pinjra Tod react to the notice in this interview  on The Ladies Finger.

Justin Trudeau offered a formal apology in the Canadian parliament for the Komagata Maru incident that took place in 1914. Komagata Maru, a Japanese steamship carrying mostly Sikh immigrants was turned away from Canadian shores in 1914, due to fears of an impending “Hindu invasion”. Pramod Nayar, in this excellent article , looks at similar instances in the past, and delves into the ethics of formal, public apology, which is often used as a means to assuage collective guilt.

Revelation and recognition, therefore, are clearly the first stages in the offering of a public apology, as David Boyd has proposed. What is revealed, however, is what is already part of the historical record. But it is the admission of wrong-doing or culpability that characterises this particular revelation within the framework of the public apology. The country recognises its culpability in the act/event. However, we also recognise that such an admission must be read only as an admission of regret and not as either justification or defence. The public apology cannot, then, ever be offered in the sense of justifications or defence: it is assumed that a nation apologises because its actions which may have been justified or defensible then, are not so now. This is an interesting conundrum because a nation’s actions, which might be necessary or justified at their historical moment in that nation’s political views, may have to be apologised for at some point in the future. The public apology is therefore a communicative act that stretches from past to the future.

 

Meanwhile, away from home:

A saddening report on the death of a Pakistani transgender activist, caused by delay in treatment after being shot multiple times.

Elena Ferrante, probably the most famous and critically acclaimed of contemporary writers speaks about the Neapolitan quartet in this email interview with Nicola Lagioia, featured in The New Yorker. The entire correspondence will be published in Ferrante’s forthcoming book. And Elena Ferrante’s real identity remains a secret, still. Here is an except:

One learned very early to have the greatest concentration amid the greatest disruption. The idea that every “I” is largely made up of others and by the others wasn’t theoretical; it was a reality. To be alive meant to collide continually with the existence of others and to be collided with, the results being at times good-natured, at others aggressive, then again good-natured. The dead were brought into quarrels; people weren’t content to attack and insult the living—they naturally abused aunts, cousins, grandparents, and great-grandparents who were no longer in the world.

The word 'Dalit' will remain in Californian school textbooks, as will the history of caste discrimination, as per a recent verdict. This report provides us with a trajectory of the debate, and also tells us about what is at stake in these troubling efforts to whitewash certain unpalatable truths about India’s history. Here's a piece on why the verdict is a victory.

Thomas Pogge, a philosophy professor at Yale stands accused of sexually harassing a former student. Read this Buzzfeed essay on the ongoing investigation into Pogge’s behaviour.

 

Here’s news that should cheer you up:

This is a gem of a conversation among three leading Indian women poets, Meena Alexander, Priya Sarukkai Chabria (who has been published by Zubaan) and Arundhathi Subramaniam.

Ranjani Pandit has a singular vocation— that of catching unfaithful partners. In this piece she writes about her experience as a private eye, and being called a ‘love detective’.

 

On Topic: student politics, workers' protests, cyberspace misogyny, Ambedkar's legacy

And we're back!

Here’s what we have been reading:

We must begin with what has been termed the ‘Indian spring’—the student protests that began with slapping sedition charges on a few students from the Jawaharlal Nehru University. This has been seen as an attack on the autonomy of the university, indicative of a general sense of intolerance toward dissent and a spirit of enquiry that is the foundation of all education institutions. Not only have the students of JNU viewed as freeloaders being educated at the expense of the taxpayer, but also they have been publicly delegitimized as ‘immoral’. Amidst the cacophony, Janaki Nair, in this essay offers a rational and lucid analysis of the role of the public university in the current time:

“The perceived illegitimacy of “politics on the campus” is aimed not against the various shades of the Left, which, till recently, stood dangerously isolated and endangered in the surge towards the dominance of market forces, but against at least two strands of politics which have, at least in a university like JNU, been uniquely and visibly allied. These are the Ambedkarite forces and the feminists. Not only has the public university, for the first time in post-Independence history, enabled the participation of the widest range of its citizens in higher education, it has given them the resources to think their social worlds anew, in an institutional space that permits and encourages new structures and relationships”

…the university is being pushed away from being a full-blooded and lively institution, which encourages critical thinking, if necessary, of the state, and dreaming of new worlds, to being a mechanism for training people to fit the world they know and receive."

Here is a brilliant discussion among Saikat Majumdar, Arunava Sinha, Gita Hariharan and Anjum Hasan on the recent attacks on writers, and the general milieu of intolerance festering in the public sphere.

Towards the end of April Bangalore witnessed unprecedented protests by garment factory workers against changes to EPF norms. T.M Veeraraghav spotlights the disparities that undergird a city like Bangalore in his piece for The Hindu:

“These factories exist in clusters and hence workers in garment manufacturing units could mobilise themselves instantly. There are an estimated 5,00,000 people working in garment factories in the city. Predominantly women (estimated to be around 85 per cent) and for them, usually with salaries of around Rs. 6,500 a month, the few hundred rupees they save as PF is the only social security.”

…. “It is important to address the difference in the way PF is looked at by those surging with a booming corporate economy and workers, like those in garment factories — PF is not the only saving mechanism for the young manager or techie, for many it’s just a mandatory contribution that one has to make.”

Chandan Gowda, in his response, reads the protests as a challenge to the idea Bangalore being the ‘Silicon Valley of India’, and in a sense, argues that this is a means for garment workers to make their claims to the city visible:

“But these workers, and those involved in manual or non-glamorous work, are invisible in the dominant imaginations of Bangalore. If the pleasures of anonymity in urban areas are celebrated, the pain of invisibility there is less talked about.”

“The garment factory workers' protest was a confident and dignified announcement of their presence in Bangalore: they are a sizable workforce; their work matters to the city's economy; they could not be taken for granted; they need to be respected.”

Delta Meghwal a 17-year-old artist pursuing a degree in teaching was raped and consequently murdered by her physical training teacher. This report looks at attempts to pass of her rape as consensual sex. Sharanya Manivannan, in her article, questions the mainstream media’s silence about Delta’s death.

We found an older post from last year, and we think it must be read. Zenisha Gonsalves’ account of the treatment meted out to women by Indian female gynaecologists is perhaps the first step towards sensitizing medical students, and practicing doctors about the ethical codes they must practice with every patient. Conservatism, morality lessons and outright shaming of women goes against this code of civil, responsible behaviour. The best part is that the piece ends with a crowd-sourced list of progressive gynecologists across Indian cities. A much needed database indeed!

This longish essay in The Guardian looks at the rise of the doctor-writer, and how such autobiographical medical narratives are therapeutic to doctor and patient alike.

Monobina Gupta writes on the inherent sexism that undergirds news reporting in India. Kate Middleton’s so called ‘Marilyn moment’ made it to the front page of one of India’s well-known newspapers, and here is Gupta’s critique of such invasive reportage.

What happens when the pillars of access and anonymity that buttress cyberspace are used to perpetuate and air highly misogynist opinions? Stephen Marche offers a nuanced commentary on The Red Pill, an online community hosted by Reddit, which acts as a virtual space where ‘men can be men’:

“In the hours upon hours I spent wandering this online neighbourhood, I saw mostly feral boys wandering the digital ruins of exploded masculinity, howling their misery, concocting vast nonsense about women, and craving the tiniest crumb of self-confidence and fellow-feeling. The discussion threads are a mixed bag of rage and curiosity: screeds against feminists, advice on how to masturbate less, theories on why women fantasize about rape, descriptions of arguments with girlfriends, guides to going up to strangers on the street, and, most of all, workout schedules and diet regimes.”

Finally, R.K. Pachari has been fired from TERI, as reported here.

Mohammed Junaid writes on Rollie Mukherjee’s images of Kashmir.

On the occasion of Ambedkar’s 125th birth anniversary, Ananya Vajpeyi looks at the attempts to appropriate his ideas both by the Hindu wing and the left. She looks at the afterlife of Ambedkar in our time and his increased visibility in the public sphere. In her analysis she poses crucial questions about the possibility of an alternative political philosophy:

“The novelty and the idealism of these mass (student) protests were clear for all to see; but as a participant in many of these events in Delhi, I can testify that they were also marked by uncertainty and a lack of direction: Who is leading this inchoate Indian Spring? Does it have a clear agenda? Will it develop into a real political alternative in the future? Can a student-led movement, which is by definition transient (like students who enter and pass through the university), acquire a staying power of its own, or will it be subsumed under the banners of existing political parties and held hostage to their failures and limitations?”

Tired of all male panels? The Ladies Finger spots a recent one for you. But here is an alternative.

How image driven is the publishing industry? To what extent does an author’s size determine whether she will be published? This article looks at the unacknowledged nexus between physical appearance and the chances of being published.

Meanwhile, solidarity pours in for the continuing the hunger strike by students of Jawaharlal Nehru University . Here is a report on professors showing solidarity by undertaking a one day fast.

The gruesome rape and murder of a young Dalit law student Jisha, has been ignored by the mainstream press. The Ladies Finger offers a roundup of the case.

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